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February 24, 2010

TECH REVIEW: Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 10; Speech Recognition Software Allows Easy Fast Dictation

Review by Bruce Braunstein (Tech Editor)

After decades of trying, and millions of man-hours of frustration, they finally got it right. Nuance Corporation has got the nuance down. The "Holy Grail" has been achieved -- speech recognition finally works the way it was supposed to! The software that does it: Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 10.

For decades I have been futzing around with various versions of speech recognition programs. I tried IBM's Via Voice. I tried earlier versions of Dragon. Each time I have given up in frustration. But finally, version 10 works the way you want it to.

I'm using the product right now to write this review, sitting at my desk talking to it as I would talk to a person. The text is coming out almost perfectly. Of course, some editing is required, but the editing is easy and almost painless. You can go back, highlight words and correct them. Not only that, they've improved the speed of the program as well. Now, words appear on the screen almost as soon as you speak them.

The preferred edition allows you to use a Bluetooth headset so you can walk around the room and dictate. Also, you can dictate into a wave or MP3 recorder. These files can be uploaded to the computer. Dragon will analyze the files and type them up for you. The productivity benefit of this product is enormous.

The hardest part in writing is getting the first draft down. Now, getting your first draft down can be fun. The thought and care that went into the program will really make your life easier. As a writer, no longer can you use writers block as an excuse. With Dragon you can simply talk out your ideas.

As a writer I find the most important thing is to get your ideas down quickly, then edit them later. If you confuse the editorial and the creative processes you will get writers block. This can stymie you. Using a program like NaturallySpeaking takes you one step closer to getting the work on paper. It removes a level of frustration. You don't have to worry about spelling. You don't have to worry about typing. You don't have to worry about the technical difficulties of writing. You just need to concentrate on the content.

One of the features I like most is the program's ability to sense when a sentence is over, and automatically insert a period and a capitol letter at the beginning of the next sentence. Little details like that make the program easy to use.

After you dictate it's important that you go back and reread your work carefully. Even though words are correctly spelled sometimes, a similar word can be substituted for the one you meant to use. Sometimes sentences are not broken at the correct spot. And sometimes your words just need to be rewritten. In short, you have to be careful editing your work later. It's much easier to go back, edit and review than it is to type it up in the first place.

Dragon's latest version works seamlessly with Microsoft Word. You can use all the features of the program with ease.

Here are some suggestions for future versions of the program. I would really like to be able to save a wav file or MP3 file from what I say to the computer. The program should have a recorder feature that lets me export and save the .WAV or .MP3 file. As an alternative, you can record your text into an audio editor such as Audacity, export it as a wav file, then process the text in batch mode.

Another suggestion: a kids training program for reading text, so pre-teen children could use this program to help with their homework. Voice recognition software could be a help or a handicap. It would be like having a calculator when they are doing math. It would be a great tool for students — provided they learn how to write by hand as well.

A third suggestion: screenplay formatting macros built into the program, for automatically formatting dialogue and action by voice.

Finally, I think the next version should update the DragonPad word processor that comes with it. It hasn’t been updated in years and could stand a revision. One problem is that if you set a font and then go to a new paragraph, the font you set up is lost and it reverts back to the default. Thus, for any real work, you have to use Microsoft Word. Fortunately, Dragon works flawlessly with Word.

In the end, I'm having a blast with this program. I think it's great. It's something I have looked forward to my whole life, and I think they finally have gotten it together in a great program. Check it out for yourself at http://www.nuance.com/.